Levon Vincent's music will always be associated with New York. He makes tracks with heavy, mid-tempo dance beats pulled along by a tidal undertow, propulsive but enveloping at the same time, and as suited to headphones as they are to the dance floor. It's warm but just slightly cerebral, seductive but tough. Along with a handful of other DJs and producers—Jus-Ed, DJ Qu, and Anthony Parasole among them—he's credited with reviving New York's house music scene in the late '00s with a series of notable nightclub residencies and vinyl singles on small boutique labels, especially his own Novel Sound and Deconstruct, which he runs with Parasole.
The thing is, Vincent has lived in New York only briefly in the last three years. He's been in Berlin for the last year.
"I live in Berlin, but I will always remain a New Yorker," he writes in an e-mail interview. "I have been here for a year now. It just got to be too much—the travel each week was exhausting. So I got a visa and a flat and I'm just using this as my central base for travels. It's similar to New York anyway; it feels more like the New York I knew as a teenager. New York has become less of a place for the fringe arts these days. I'll go back when I'm older, though. It will always be my favorite city, and I'm proud to say I'm from there."
Before that, he spent much of 2008 in the Midwest with an aunt and uncle after suffering a serious back injury. He referred to the period in one interview as his "woodshed"—like when jazz musicians disappear for months at a time to hone their craft. "I spent six months in Indiana," he writes. "Honestly, I never left the house. I didn't interact with anyone but my family. I just sort of hid out and recovered and focused on music."
His schedule is international: In the week before his Knoxville performance he DJed in Berlin and Paris, and after Knoxville it's San Francisco, New York, and Glasgow. The new Headroom space, formerly the Midtown Arts Center just off of Fifth Avenue, now run by Will Azada and Brad Tomline, stands out on his itinerary.
"Yeah, a little off the beaten path," Vincent writes. "But I met these guys in Detroit at a music festival and I could see that they were passionate, and that was exciting for me, because these are the types of gigs that keep me excited about traveling. I would go to the ends of the Earth for an honest, good crowd and a big sound system."
Part of the appeal of Vincent's music is its resolutely analog nature. Most of it is made with vintage synthesizers. Both of his labels, Novel Sound and Deconstruct, are, for now, strictly vinyl labels, and Vincent and his New York cohort have old-school reputations—which includes dragging big crates of records to DJ gigs.
"I am a vinyl enthusiast, that's true," he writes. "I play all vinyl, and I don't mind dragging it all around, either. I have a cart with wheels. However, I wouldn't say that I only release vinyl, it's just that it's all I have done yet. I'll definitely offer digital sales one day, but I'll wait until I am either more organized or when digital sales become profitable for dance music. At this point in time, it costs money to offer digital, i.e., there is not enough money in digital sales to break even. I don't mind breaking even on an endeavor that people request, but I can't lose money. That's money that could be spent on much better things, like rent or the dentist."
The control, financial and creative, of having his own labels has been a major factor in Vincent's rise to prominence in the dance underground the last two years, and he appreciates it.
"Every situation I had until I got fed up was one of being taken advantage of," he writes. "It was the best thing for me, really, and a big part to my current success. The cool thing about this industry is there is not really a right answer and you carve your own career path. Your career path is unfolding literally at the same rate that your life is being lived. So you just go with it, and somewhere in that process is some wisdom which will give your compositions depth and give your life some meaning. All these aspects combined, well, this is the combination that equals a satisfying existence."